Friday, 13 March 2020


The Horns of Alligin, Beinn Dearg & Liathach from Sgurr Mhor
This winter has been one of many storms and very few sparkling, clear and calm days. Today we got a stunner. One of those small high pressure weather windows of just 24 hours. The Northwest Highlands looked to be the best place in the UK. I needed no more incentive to make the journey up to Torridon, the finest mountain area on the planet.
Loch Clair
I met up with Scott in Inverness who was also dead keen for a day out in Torridon. Our original plan was to have a ridge traverse on mighty Liathach, one of the finest mountaineering expeditions in Scotland. Checking over the SAIS avalanche forecast there was a MODERATE avalanche risk on southern aspects. To gain the ridge does involve ascending steeply up this side of the mountain to gain the ridgeline. We would have a look at it. We always had alternative plans.

The East end of Beinn Eighe
The journey up to the Northwest is a spectacular one and especially so on a stunning day like today. The road from Inverness to Wester-Ross has been such a beautiful journey for many generations, even before the NC500 road trip was conceived! Blue skies and snow capped mountains. It's days like these that the Scottish Highlands are so beautiful and there is no need to travel to any other country really. When you arrive at Kinlocewe you then get 10 miles of the finest road scenery anywhere.

After several stops for photos we eventually pulled up below the southern side of Liathach were you can see the mountain in full view. We had a good look up at the route to the Eastern end of this amazing mountain. It was very clear, even from the view below that there was a lot of wind slab running across the slopes below the ridge. So that was that idea put to bed then.

Liathach from Loch Clair
Plan 'B'. Glen Torridon is surrounded by fabulous mountains. One of the 'big 3' is Beinn Alligin. We fancied an adventurous way up onto the ridge of this. There is a Grade I winter gully on the NE side of the mountains 'Horns'. A beautiful walk-in along well made paths makes the going quite straightforward and easy to the base of this gully. We set off in just thin fleeces and no wooly hats. Brilliant.
The path up Coire Mhic Nobuil
Beinn Dearg looming ahead
At about 400m we hit the snowline. All soft but a couple of folk had put some footsteps in. The trail swings around the East end of Beinn Alligin and offers beautiful views in every direction. Dominating the scene is the imposing Corbett of Beinn Dearg. It's height falls just 1 metre short of Munro status and a fine mountain it is.

Soft snow at 400m
Fresh avalanche debris at the foot of Deep South Gully
We got to the start of the route on Deep South Gully. This quality, easy winter climb is spectacular. As the name suggests it's a very deep gash in the side of steep tiers of Torridonian sandstone and leads up to the Horns of Alligin. The horns are a series of 3 rocky pinnacles. As we approached the base of the gully we were disappointed to find a huge pile of very fresh avalanche debris. It was obviously out of the gully and probably avalanched either the night before or even early morning. So that was plan 'B' dashed.

the West end of Beinn Dearg
So Plan 'C' was to contour around the base of the mountain and get onto the ridge from another route. All away along Beinn Alligin's Northern aspects we saw avalanche debris including the slopes running down from the bealach between The Horns and Sgurr Mhor's Eastern ridge. This was one of our options. So next line of attack was the long NW shoulder leading directly to Sgurr Mhor's summit. This was definitely a safe option being a ridge line and easier angled. This involved more walking in untrodded deep snow. The plus side to all this was the magnificent setting. Wild, beautiful and an area on the mountain I had never been.

Scott checking the route

Wild and beautiful
After an hour of traversing we were finally going up! Now on a more direct route onto the tops. We did think underfoot condions would quickly improve as we gained height up the shoulder. We were wrong. Just powder soft snow from ankle to shin deep. But we had beautiful views, lots of time and enjoying the workout (that's what Scott said).

Fabulous views out to the coast
At last, after 5 hours of hard trail breaking we got up to the top of Eag Dubh. This major, huge and spectacular feature is a deep gash running from Sgurr Mhor all the way down to the bottom of the coire. It also marks the final 10 minutes to the Munro summit.

Contouring around Eag Dubh
This was a well earned summit. Our reward was one of the most spectacular winter viewpoints I have had this season. The views look out across the Horns of Alligin, Beinn Dearg, Liathach and beyond Torridon, the Fisherfield Forest. That's only the North and East views!

The summit!

Summit ridge & Baosbheinn

Fisherfield Forest & Beinn Dearg

The Horns well plastered in deep snow
I was quite surprised at the amount of deep powder snow on the ridges, including The Horns of Alligin. We both agreed that it would have been quite time and energy consuming if we had gone up Deep South Gully and then traversed the Horns. We marvelled at the weird cornice but most of all we admired the astonishing views. Wow.

Untouched snow
Looking down the Eag Dubh
The ridge to the second of Beinn Alligin's Munros was much easier. We even had the first (and last) bit of hard, icy snow. The light this time of day is wonderful and a photographers paradise. The beauty of March gives longer daylight hours so time was not of the essence.

Snow light and shapes

The ridge up to Tom na Gruagaich
We reached Tom na Gruagaich at 5pm. 7 hours after setting out. Not so bad considering the hard work in snow and our big traverse under the mountain. But hey, who gives a damn about time when you can savour views like this on one of those rare clear, calm and sunny days this winter.

Liathach & Tom na Gruagaich

Sgurr Mhor from Tom na Gruagaich

Tom na Gruagaich
All downhill now. The easy plod down into the brilliant Coir' an Laogh is a spectacular one. The coire is bounded on the western side by a huge rock wall smeared with ice. Half way down we bumped into a couple of folk heading up for a sunset. We were welcome of the final hour in snow with some footprints! Easy going now. We reached the carpark just before darkness. A marvellous day out and great company. Days in winter don't get much better than this.
As I often mention. March is ALWAYS the best month of the season. Back to normal over the weekend. Winds and cloud.
Spectacular descent views
Fading light in Coir' nan Laogh

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